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Holiday recollections: A great Christmas, by George

by David Stout
I spent Christmas 1983 with my mom. This is more momentous than you realize because I have no other yuletide memories of us together during my youth. You see, my mom and dad divorced when I was two. He got me and she got a second husband with wanderlust who moved her to Jacksonville, Fla.

For a variety of reasons none of us could control, I grew up seeing mom and my subsequent pair of half-brothers infrequently. This made it a very big deal when mom called to say that her husband’s older brother and his wife were driving down for Christmas and I was welcome to ride along.

With a little pleading, dad agreed to let me go.

When my step-uncle got off work on Friday, Dec. 23, we set out. The trip was uneventful but my excitement grew with each passing mile marker. Sometime after midnight we arrived. I climbed out of the car into the strangely warm air; it felt like we had traveled to another land.

Inside, the house was bustling. My family foursome were there along with my mom’s sister and her young son (who lived with them) and my stepfather’s remaining brother and sister-in-law (who lived next door with their three kids). Our entrance sparked a loud, joyous reunion that lasted well into the night.

My mom and her sister love pop music — a passion that my brothers and I share with them. Between the five of us, I don’t think MTV was off the television more than a few hours a day that entire visit. As a result, I’ll always fondly recall the ubiquitous presence of Boy George that Christmas.

For those who don’t know, Culture Club was nearing its commercial peak in December 1983. The band’s recently released second album, “Colour By Numbers,” was showing every sign of becoming a blockbuster. The lead single, “Church Of The Poison Mind,” had just peaked at number two on the charts. And the follow-up cut, “Karma Chameleon,” was getting a ton of support from radio and especially MTV.

Each time the video aired, the adults in the house would pause to talk about Boy George. My mom and aunt would gush about how pretty he was, how great his make-up looked and how beautifully he sang. My step-dad and step-uncles, on the other hand, would comment on how ridiculous he looked, how confused he was and how far music had declined.

As a self-acknowledged but not out gay teen, I found the whole situation fascinating. Boy George’s outré gender-bending, at the height of the staid Reagan era, made him a hero to me, while mom’s easy acceptance left a profound impression that influenced my decision to come out a few years later.

On Christmas morning I tore through my presents looking for the Walkman I so desperately coveted. (For the younger readers, I should explain that Sony’s Walkman was the iPod of my youth — a personal cassette player that, for the first time, allowed people to take their favorite music anywhere they went. And, like the iPod among today’s kids, it was a must-have item in the early ’80s.)

On the last package, success!…followed by fleeting disappointment when I realized that my player was a Panasonic knock-off. Not to worry, though, delight was restored when mom presented me with cassette copies of “Cold Blooded” (Rick James), “Jarreau” (Al Jarreau) and, most appropriately, “Colour By Numbers.”

For the rest of the day I sat outside in the swing with my headphones on, soaking in both the warm sunshine and Boy George’s perfect pop. A white Christmas by no means, but the very definition of a winter wonderland.

— David Stout is associate editor of Q-Notes.

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